Two parts of England are always special treats for us to visit: West Country (Wiltshire, Devon, and Cornwall) and the scenic villages of the Cotswolds. The highlights of both of these destinations can be reached by public transportation, but schedules and connections can be difficult, consuming precious vacation time. So for your second week in England, we recommend that you rent a car. Because England is such a small island nation, distances from one major attraction to another are relatively short. Of course, if you've already spent 1 week in England, you will have already "conquered" the touristy highlights -- London, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the country's three great palaces: Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace, and Hampton Court Palace.
Days 1 & 2: Arrival in London
Take a flight that arrives in London as early as possible on Day 1. Check into your hotel and enjoy an old-fashioned English breakfast. You might even find yourself skipping lunch.
Take the Tube to Westminster Abbey, the shrine of the nation where most of England's queens and kings have been crowned and where they are also buried. Check out the fan-vaulted Henry VII's Chapel (one of the loveliest in all of Europe), the shrine to Edward the Confessor, and, for a final look, Poets' Corner, where the literati are buried. After your visit (allow 1 1/2 hr.), stroll by the Houses of Parliament and that landmark clock of London, "Big Ben".
Continue walking north along Whitehall, bypassing 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister, and ending at Trafalgar Square, the hub of London and its most famous square.
On the north side of the square stands the National Gallery, where you will be able to see some of the highlights in 1 1/2 hours. Directly north of the square, you enter the precincts of Covent Garden, with dozens of places for lunch.
Then take the Tube to Charing Cross Station. Armed with a good map, walk along the Mall all the way to Buckingham Palace. If it's late summer, you might even be able to visit the palace when the queen is away.
After a look, head east for the one big attraction of the afternoon, the Tower of London. The much-photographed Beefeaters conduct hour-long guided tours.
On Day 2, take the Tube to Russell Square for your descent on the British Museum. This is the mammoth home of one of the world's greatest treasure-troves -- much of it plundered from other parts of the globe when Britannia ruled the waves. The most exciting of these treasures are the Elgin Marbles, taken from Greece, and the Rosetta Stone, taken from Egypt. You'll need at least 2 hours for the most cursory of visits. After the British Museum, head to the City, the financial district of London lying in the East End. An evocative and atmospheric luncheon stopover is Bow Wine Vaults, at 10 Bow Churchyard, EC4.
Fortified for the afternoon, head for St. Paul's Cathedral, the masterpiece of architect Sir Christopher Wren. At the top you'll be rewarded with one of the most panoramic of all London views.
On the south side of the Thames, pay a visit to Tate Modern, housing the greatest collection of 20th-century art in Britain. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours for the most cursory of visits.
Head for Westminster Bridge (Tube: Westminster), the embarkation point for a ride on the British Airways London Eye, the world's largest observation wheel. On a clear day at least, it provides you with a panoramic sweep of 40km (25 miles). It's the most popular ride in London.
Day 3: A Side Trip to Windsor Castle
Having sampled the charms of London in just 2 days, make Day 3 different by heading north of London to visit Windsor Castle, which the queen prefers as a royal residence even to Buckingham Palace itself. In just half an hour, a fast train from London will deliver you to the royal town of Windsor, site of England's most legendary castle. If you skipped the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, you can see an even more exciting pageant taking place here from April to July Monday to Saturday at 11am (off-season hours differ slightly). Wander through such attractions as St. George's Chapel, where some British monarchs are entombed; and visit the Jubilee Gardens spread over .8 hectares (2 acres). You'll need at least 2 hours to explore the castle.
Head back to London, arriving at Waterloo or Paddington Station where you can take the Tube to Hyde Park (Marble Arch). Strolling through this "green lung of London," take in the miniature lake, Serpentine, and listen to protesters at Speakers' Corner demanding the overthrow of the government.
After a visit, head for the heart of Mayfair, Grosvenor Square, before window-shopping along Oxford Street or else New and Old Bond streets. End up at the Burlington Arcade and have tea at the world's most famous grocery store, Fortnum & Mason. After tea, walk east into Piccadilly Circus, the hub of London.
Days 4 & 5: Stratford-upon-Avon
From London's Paddington Station, you can be in Stratford-upon-Avon in just 2 hours. After checking into a hotel here for 2 nights, you can begin your tour of the Shakespeare properties, after stopping in at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and purchasing a global ticket.
After lunch in Stratford, try to visit at least three of the Shakespeare-related properties in the afternoon, including Shakespeare's Birthplace; Holy Trinity Church, where he is buried; and Hall's Croft, where his daughter, Susanna, lived.
That night have dinner and a pint at the Black Swan, nicknamed "the Dirty Duck".
On the morning of Day 5, continue your exploration of the Shakespeare properties by visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Mary Arden's House (Glebe Farm)/Palmer's Farm.
After lunch in Stratford, head in the afternoon to Warwick Castle, England's greatest medieval castle, lying only 13km (8 miles) northeast of Stratford. Trains run frequently throughout the day between Stratford and the city of Warwick. You can go on a 2-hour tour before the castle closes at 6pm in summer. Return to Stratford for the night. Instead of going to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this time, visit the auxiliary theater, the Swan, since it presents somewhat more unconventional productions but with actors just as skilled as those who perform in the main theater.
Day 6: Oxford & its University
Return to London and then transfer on to another fast train leaving from Paddington Station, reaching Oxford in 1 1/2 hours. Five trains run to Oxford every hour.
For atmosphere and affordable food, have lunch at the Turf Tavern, following in the footsteps of everybody from Elizabeth Taylor to Bill Clinton. We'd then recommend a 2-hour walking tour that departs at 2pm daily from the Oxford Tourist Information Centre. This is the best orientation for the highlights of this university city. To crown the afternoon, climb Carfax Tower for a panoramic view of the "city of dreaming spires." If there's still time in the afternoon, engage in that popular local pastime: "Punting the River Cherwell".
Day 7: Blenheim Palace & Hampton Court Palace
If you move fast enough, you can see two of England's greatest palaces -- each one different -- before the day's end. From Oxford, trains depart every 12 minutes to Woodstock, home of Blenheim Palace, called England's answer to Versailles. The ancestral seat of the dukes of Marlborough, it was also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. After a tour of the palace, lasting 1 1/2 hours, return to Oxford and take a fast train back to London, where you can check into a hotel.
There will still be time in the afternoon to visit Hampton Court Palace, the 16th-century palace once lived in by the lusty Henry VIII ("the marrying kind"). You can take frequent trains from London for the 21km (13-mile) journey.
Allow yourself a minimum of 3 hours to explore this magnificent palace and its great gardens.
Day 8: Salisbury & Stonehenge
The drive from London to the cathedral city of Salisbury is only 145km (90 miles) to the southwest. You can easily arrive in time to check into a hotel for the night and visit Salisbury Cathedral, whose architectural framework may already be familiar to you because of the John Constable paintings. Allow 1 1/2 hours to visit its interior and wander about the cathedral complex.
If you're ready for a busy afternoon, you can head first for Wilton House, ancestral home of the earls of Pembroke, where General Eisenhower lived as he plotted the D-day landings on the beaches of Normandy in 1944. Allow 1 1/2 hours for a visit, including strolling through its rose and water gardens and taking a riverside walk.
You'll still have time to descend on ancient Stonehenge, a visit taking 1 1/2 hours. Lying 14km (9 miles) north of Salisbury, this colossal circle of stones is, of course, one of the world's greatest prehistoric monuments, though still a mystery to archaeologists. It dates from 3000 B.C.
Day 9: The Spa Town of Bath
In a trail blazed before you by the likes of Queen Anne and Jane Austen, Bath is the grandest and most elegant city of the West Country, lying 185km (115 miles) west of London. Northwest of Salisbury, a distance of 67km (41 miles), Bath can be easily reached in a morning's drive.
After checking into a hotel and having lunch in Bath, you can view some of its grand squares, such as the Circus, dating from 1754, and take in Bath Abbey and the Pump Room and Roman Baths, all in an afternoon. That evening, try to catch a performance at Theatre Royal Bath.
Day 10: Wells, Glastonbury Abbey & Exeter
A busy day indeed. Leave Bath in the morning and drive 34km (21 miles) southwest to the city of Wells, where you can visit its famous cathedral, dating from the 12th century. The structure is noted for its vast and intricate inverted arches added in 1338. After a visit lasting less than an hour, continue 9.5km (6 miles) to the southwest to visit historic Glastonbury Abbey, the famous abbey ruins and legendary retreat of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Allow 45 minutes for a visit.
Arrive in Exeter, the capital of Devon, and check into a hotel. Exeter lies 151km (94 miles) southwest of Bath. If time remains, visit its cathedral dating from 1112.
Day 11: Plymouth & the Mayflower
In the morning, drive to Powderham Castle, the seats of the earls of Devon and a site used in Merchant Ivory's The Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The location is 13km (8 miles) to the south.
After a visit, continue southwest following the southern coastline of Devon, heading for a luncheon stopover in the port of Dartmouth, 56km (35 miles) southeast of Exeter. This is the ancient seaport home of the Royal Naval College.
Continue for the night to the historic seaport of Plymouth, a distance of 390km (242 miles) southwest of London. If you arrive in time, you can visit the spot where the Mayflower sailed to the New World and walk along the Barbican, with its maze of narrow streets and old houses. Either in the late afternoon or early in the morning of the next day, visit the National Marine Aquarium, the best in Britain.
Day 12: Penzance on the Cornish Coast
A good part of the day will be consumed driving along the southern Devon and Cornish coasts, one of the most historic of England, until you arrive in the city of Penzance, a distance of 451km (280 miles) southwest of London. Check into a hotel for the night in Penzance.
Spend 2 hours visiting the Castle on St. Michael's Mount, and try to catch a performance that evening at the Minack Theatre.
Day 13: Cheltenham
In the morning, cut inland and take the A30 northeast toward the Cotswolds, until you reach the scenic village of Painswick, where you can break for lunch. After a visit to the Rococo Garden, continue northeast into Cheltenham, where you can book into a hotel for the night. Try to catch a performance that evening at the Everyman Theatre. But before dinner and the theater, walk through the historic core of Cheltenham, especially along its Promenade, one of the most beautiful thoroughfares in England.
Day 14: Driving Through the Cotswolds
For your final day in England, arm yourself with a good map and set out to explore the most beautiful villages in the Cotswolds.
From Cheltenham, and by doing some crisscrossing here and there, you can take in the best of the Cotswolds. Scenic highlights of your day will include Upper and Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury, Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Moreton-in-Marsh. Finally, in the north Cotswolds, you arrive in the most scenic town of Broadway, with what is arguably the most beautiful High Street in England. However, it's overrun with visitors in summer and charges very high prices. Make your way northeast to the even more charming village of Chipping Campden, which you can walk around and explore in 2 hours, spending the night before heading back to London and your final destination in the morning.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.